- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2005

FREDERICK, Md. — A guy walks into a bar, orders a beer and gets a once-over from Ron Kitzmiller: How old is he? How big? Is he talking loudly? Guzzling or sipping? Is he with a group? Does the group have a designated driver?

These are questions that Mr. Kitzmiller, a bartender at the Barley and Hops Grill & Microbrewery in Frederick, has been trained to consider as a certified professional in alcohol awareness.

He says the training was valuable for his career development and for the restaurant, which could be fined for selling to minors or sued if a drunken customer kills someone while driving home.

“It just seems like a no-brainer,” Mr. Kitzmiller says, “that the more people that actually went through these classes, the safer the employees and the owner would feel.”

Maryland law requires every establishment that sells alcoholic beverages, including retail stores, to have at least one employee certified by a state-approved alcohol-awareness program.

Five counties — Harford, Howard, Kent, Montgomery and Washington — and the city of Annapolis go further by requiring that a certified person be on the premises whenever alcohol is being sold or served.

Bar owners disagree about the value of the programs offered by 19 vendors and nearly 250 trainers.

The programs aren’t created equal, and some haven’t provided all the training they promised, prompting state regulators to take action.

At least 11 states require server training for businesses licensed to sell alcohol, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A CDC task force has concluded that programs that incorporate “well-executed, face-to-face training, accompanied by active management support,” can reduce alcohol-impaired driving.

Alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Maryland have declined since the law was passed in 1989. Such deaths peaked at 407 in 1986 and reached a low of 215 in 1999, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Last year, 286 alcohol-related traffic deaths were reported in the state, according to NHTSA.

Some bar owners, including Barley and Hops proprietor Gary Brooks, see alcohol-awareness training as a responsible investment in community safety.

Mr. Brooks, a state-licensed trainer for a program called Maryland’s BEST (Beverage, Education and Server Training), says more than a quarter of his 31 servers have been trained. He recently supported a failed proposal to increase the training requirement in Frederick County.

Other restaurateurs, particularly those with small operations and high employee turnover, say the classes, at $15 to $65 a person, are a financial burden and a waste of time.

“If it wasn’t so expensive and time-consuming, it’d be humorous,” says Tom Caulfield, owner of Chubby’s, a barbecue restaurant in Emmitsburg with five employees.

He says there is no trick to checking customer IDs or recognizing people who are obviously intoxicated.

Training proponents “act as if they have these marvelous courses to teach you how to handle people who are intoxicated,” Mr. Caulfield says. “Like Dr. Phil is going to all of a sudden intervene.”

Meanwhile, the state Comptroller of the Treasury, which licenses alcohol-awareness programs and trainers, is writing the first set of rules for the 1989 state law that mandated server training.

Daniel Adams, assistant director of the agency’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau, told the Associated Press that the biggest problem has been programs or instructors that “shortchanged” students on training time.

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